The Water Sector Workforce Needs Skills of American Workers

By Nancy Stoner

In his State of the Union Address, President Obama presented a blueprint for an economy built to last – one built on the skills of American workers. The President laid out new ideas for how we’ll make sure our students and workers get the education and training they need so we have a workforce ready to take on the jobs of today and tomorrow.

EPA is working with water sector organizations to do just that.

A well-trained water sector workforce is essential to protecting public health and the environment through effective drinking water and wastewater utility operations. However, our water industry has a critical need to develop skilled professionals. Over one-third of current water operators can retire within seven years, and according to the U.S. Department of Labor, employment for water and wastewater operators will grow by 20% between 2008 and 2018, faster than the national average for all other occupations.

Earlier this month, I attended a roundtable in Alexandria, VA hosted by the Water Environment Federation, which brought together utility managers and leaders to discuss developing the next generation of the workforce.

I heard about innovative ways that organizations are making a difference. In Virginia, Loudoun Water worked with a public school to place special needs students in internship positions at the utility. The program helps students gain work experience and better prepares their path from high school to career. In Wisconsin, the Department of Workforce Development created a three-year wastewater treatment plant operator apprenticeship program, providing a mix of on-the-job learning and classroom instruction.

At the roundtable, I was able to highlight EPA’s efforts to address water sector workforce needs. We’re working closely with utility groups to promote water sector careers to new target audiences and to identify training programs. We’re collaborating with our federal partners to recruit and train new water professionals. EPA, the Department of Veterans Affairs and Department of Labor, as well as states and utility groups, are coordinating to recruit and train veterans. And we’re partnering with the U.S. Department of Agriculture to promote water sector careers in rural communities.

Creating jobs in the water sector has a ripple effect – the U.S. Conference of Mayors found that every job created in water infrastructure creates over three additional jobs to support that position. Working together, we can realize the President’s vision for a strong workforce, today and tomorrow

About the author: Nancy Stoner is the Acting Assistant Administrator for the EPA’s Office of Water

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